Practice makes perfect for Mushfiqur

Mushfiqur Rahim put a four-month gap between ODIs behind him to propel Bangladesh to a comfortable victory over Zimbabwe

Mohammad Isam
Mohammad Isam
Mushfiqur Rahim celebrates his fourth ODI century, Bangladesh v Zimbabwe, 1st ODI, Mirpur, November 7, 2015

Mushfiqur Rahim's fourth ODI century made him the leading run-scorer for Bangladesh in ODIs this year  •  Associated Press

Mushfiqur Rahim has hardly looked out for form in the last four years and that wasn't going to change just because Bangladesh were playing their first ODI in four months. His fourth ODI hundred was also his second this year and he has now overtaken Soumya Sarkar as the team's leading scorer in the format in 2015.
More than the 718 runs at a batting average of 55.23 though, it is Mushfiqur's preparation ahead of a series or a match that stands out. He is arguably the hardest working batsman in the Bangladesh team, and will do anything to ensure his peace of mind. This time he played in the practice match two days ago when he could have easily taken the day off like the rest of the batsmen. He made 81 off 84 balls with five fours and two sixes, and looked to be cruising in Fatullah at times.
And it was similar in Mirpur despite the early struggle among the Bangladesh top-order. Tamim Iqbal wasn't getting enough strike while Mahmudullah had too much to work with. Liton Das meanwhile fell away early in his first foray as an opener.
"I wanted to play the practice match," Mushfiqur said. "I couldn't score to my standard in the NCL so there were some gaps. So I requested the coach to put me in the BCB XI. I realised I was in touch while batting in that game although at the start it wasn't easy. I need a bit of time in the middle, so when I played 5-7 deliveries today, I knew that I was ready for a big innings.
"I was lucky to get a few bad balls early on. Confidence will go up when you get a couple of boundaries away. The wicket was very slow but I never thought I need a long time to make runs. I tried to play naturally and get the runs."
Bangladesh captain Mashrafe Mortaza paid tribute to Mushfiqur for getting the team out of tough situations in the early stages of a tournament or series. Only the day before this game, Mashrafe said that Shakib Al Hasan and Mushfiqur has showed the way by being strong when the chips are down. He gave examples of Bangladesh's first matches in the last ODI series against Zimbabwe in 2014 and the first match of this year's World Cup. Coincidentally, it was both Mushfiqur and Shakib who made big contributions in this first game too.
Mashrafe also said that the dressing-room relaxes when senior batsmen like Mushfiqur grab hold of match situations that are about to be taken over by the opponents.
"It is really obvious they have been contributing for Bangladesh cricket from the start of their careers. You expect them to deliver their best at tough times. I want the youngsters to learn from them. My gut feeling says that on tough times they will answer. I had said yesterday that the first match is very important and in each of those matches Mushfiqur batted brilliantly and so did Shakib and [Mahmudullah] Riyad. I always believe that when my experienced players step up, the match becomes easier to win.
"This year, we always faced a difficult situation in the first match. It is obviously a relief when batsmen build a partnership, especially the senior batsmen. So today when Tamim and Mushfiqur built a stand, Sabbir managed to get out of his temporary rut. It was a relief for our team but again when the senior players are in form and bat in the middle then from the outside all the other batsmen are relaxed," said Mashrafe.
Mushfiqur said that he hardly felt that he was out of form this year despite a lack of big scores between his century against Pakistan in April this year. He would always start well but fall away, but one has to remember that he was also dealing with a continuous finger injury for much of the Pakistan, India and South Africa series.
"I never felt this year that I was out of form. I have had a good year but I haven't got enough big scores accordingly. I am happy to come back among the runs. The big thing is that the team won.
"Luck of course matters," said Mushfiqur. "But I always believe that if I am honest in my preparation, I don't regret making 2 or 5 runs. It is my biggest strength, I feel."

Mohammad Isam is ESPNcricinfo's Bangladesh correspondent. @isam84